Nigerians can travel without visa to South Africa next year – Buba Marwa

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By KINGSLEY OMONOBI
Mohammed Buba Marwa, a retired Brigadier General of the Nigerian Army, former Military Governor of  Borno State, former Military Administrator of  Lagos State and presidential aspirant under the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party in 2007, is Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the Republic of South Africa.

Between the 25th to the 31st of October, 2009, he played host to the Vice President of   Nigeria , Dr. Goodluck Jonathan; Speaker of the House of  Representatives, Governors, Senators, House of  Reps Members and Ministers, among other officials from Nigeria in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Nigeria-South Africa BI-NATIONAL Commission at both Cape Town and Johannesburg.

In this interview with SATURDAY  VANGUARD in Pretoria, General Marwa, speaks on several issues including the PDP and 2011 elections, Amnesty for ex-militants in the Niger Delta and the socio-economic relationship between Nigeria and South Africa.
EXCEPTS:

Buba Marwa...Cases like the  harassment of Nigerians by security agencies, by immigration officials and the like  have  reduced

Buba Marwa...Cases like the harassment of Nigerians by security agencies, by immigration officials and the like have reduced

We would like to know what the Nigeria-South Africa Bi-National Commission is all about and what has come out of it so far?

Let me take us back a little bit first. Before the attainment of South African independence, as you know, the decolonization of the continent, as you know was one of Nigerian foreign policy objectives from the Tafewa Balewa years.

Principal among the objectives was the eradication of apartheid and Nigeria played a very major role and a very salutary role towards the attainment of majority rule in South Africa, both directly with the Africa National Congress (ANC) and also at the international level as Chairman of the Committee against Apartheid at the United Nations for about 30 years.

After the struggle and majority rule was obtained. It became necessary and appropriate for a platform to be found that would put together, under one umbrella, the various facets of cooperation between the two countries.

This gave birth to the Bi-National Commission. Of all the commissions that South Africa has with all other countries, it is has by far, the most agreement signed. Over 30 MOU’s and agreements have been signed and the purpose is to provide that platform for joint cooperation in various spheres; in foreign affairs and cooperation, industry and finance, agriculture, water resources, environment, energy and mining.

Those are the working groups that look at all the facets of joint cooperation. The Bi-National commission itself is made up of three groups. The first   is called the Special Implementation Committee. This is a group of senior officials of government of the two sides and they work under this working group and they meet quarterly. After that, you have the Council of Ministers.

At the top, you have the Review Council which is made up of the Vice President of Nigeria and that of South Africa as the co-chairmen. That is the principal body. This is really what the Bi-National commission is all about.

Specifically , We would like you to point at some immediate gains and benefits that have accrued to Nigeria in the last ten years that    the Bi-national Commission has been in existence?

Thank you, we can look at the trade and investment and finance aspects. We have seen MTN revolutionalize   communication in Nigeria ; we have seen DSTV come in. These are all as a result of the working Bi-National commission. We have seen in the field of hospitality industry, the PROTEA group has established in Nigeria , so also the SUN international, we have seen engineering companies and agricultural firms come to establish in Nigeria .

In the foreign affairs and cooperation fields, I am happy to say that in another four weeks or so, we expect an agreement to be signed that will make holders of diplomatic and official passports travel between the two countries without visas.

In the field of communications between the two countries, movement of persons, a new BASA agreement has been signed and today, you witness two flights a day between the two countries and already this BASA is meant for 20 flights, so it has not even attained the optimum, and direct Abuja connections have been made as well as Cape Town for ARIK AIR, in addition to Johannesburg.

And if you look at the other spheres like in agriculture and the produce, especially exports from South Africa to West Africa, 50 per cent of it is consumed in Nigeria . As it happens, South Africa has benefitted more from things  but we have to recognize and accept that as far as the economy is concerned, they are bigger, the leading economy in the continent, they are more advanced in infrastructure and development.

So in most of these areas, it is they that will transfer to us some of these attributes since you can’t come here to show them how to build roads or bridges or hotels. We have agreement that has been signed too in the area of gender for women; MOU’s have been signed on environment too.

Equally a decision has been taken in the review council for a secretariat to be established for the Bi-National Commission which will be set up in Abuja with the Chief Executive officer coming from South Africa .

We  know that before your assumption of office in South Africa , there were some problems with the relationship between both countries arising from certain actions of citizens of both countries. How have you tackled it?

The relations between the two countries cannot be anything other than cordial. The occasional rough edges are there but I want to confirm to you that when these cases have been reported, we have found and verily so, that it is not policy of the South African government ..

But we have brought this to the attention of the authorities and they are being looked into and addressed and fortunately, these cases have reduced  considerably. Cases like the  harassment of Nigerians by security agencies, by immigration officials and the like are have  reduced.

For the most part, Nigerians are leaving happily and working honestly and decently in South Africa . So for the relations, we are quite pleased to say it can only get better. We report instantly where there are issues to be addressed and I must say the South African authorities respond speedily when these issues come.

Having said that, also as part of my consular responsibilities since we need to protect Nigerian’s interest, I have taken time to travel hundreds of kilometers across the provinces, rural areas meeting with Nigerians and encouraging them that they are a good people from a great nation, and that we must leave to the responsibility that this calls for.

We must remain steadfast and law abiding, stay within the law and do your jobs honestly and these pleas have been taken very well by Nigerians, I am happy to say.

Something very novel that has never happened in the history of diplomacy in South Africa, took place a few days back  -that is the Nigeria Achievement Awards. What motivated you to come out with this initiative?

As I mentioned to you from the beginning, we contributed a huge lot from the personal and governmental level to attainment of majority rule in South Africa .

If you remember, those days, students had to pay into the South Africa Relief Fund; public servants, myself inclusive, as a Captain in those days, we all had to pay into the funds and government also doled out cash and time and morale support via the Lagos Plan of Action Against Apartheid spearheaded by Nigeria and there was sensitization everywhere.

A lot from came from Nigeria into South Africa and so when I was appointed High Commissioner, I was highly elated and reported for duty, only to discover to my chagrin that Nigeria was in fact, not having the image that it deserved in South Africa.

There was a negative stereotyping and the name Nigeria and Nigerians were      scorned   due to the  activities of a very minuscule few. As a result of that, I, with my staff in the mission sat and reviewed some steps and strategies that we should take to correct the notion because as you know, we are not a criminal nation, we don’t grow any drugs, nor  are we a drug consuming nation and so if one or two people embark on that, they are completely on their own, and they should face the music.

And 419, when you come to me and say I have $5million, come let us share it, you are equally a crook for thinking there is a spare money somewhere that you will share when you didn’t work for it. The 419 itself is a different category. Anyway, this stereotyping was unacceptable and we wanted to resist it. This is one of the steps, to demonstrate that the huge majority of Nigerians in South Africa are decent people, honest, hardworking, people that are achievers in broad spectrum of human endeavours.

We did the achievement awards for our host communities to see that in their midst are not drug dealers and such, but achievers in the field of medicine, public service, public enterprises, teaching, academia and a whole gamut. We came out with about 20 categories of awards including our kids who excelled in primary and secondary schools. It is also to encourage Nigerians leaving in South Africa themselves to recognize that first, those who receive the awards will be rewarded and to know that they have worked for it and for others to look and strive to achieve.

Let us come back home now  most of the political parties have started putting machineries in place to unseat the Peoples Democratic Party at both the federal and state levels. New and formidable parties are coming up including a broad based mega party. Do you think your party; the PDP has done enough and can still retain power in 2011?

I will be the first to say that the PDP does have its own share of challenges, which is normal, in a dynamic environment with a party as large and huge with about 30million sort of members, the largest in the African continent. Definitely, there must be challenges to be faced but I must tell you that the party is up and doing and facing up to these challenges and by the time elections comes around again, they would retain the seats of the presidency and most of the states and local governments in the federation in the PDP.

Recently    the Yar’adua administration came up with the amnesty programme that seems to have worked wonders. But there is this school of thought in Nigeria that feels that granting amnesty to people who have committed crimes against the state, killed security agents on constitutional duties was a mistake. Do you see this as the solution to the problem of the Niger Delta?

In the long run, and even in the short run, I am  fully   behind the decision for the amnesty programme for Niger Delta militants and I have supported it in the media here in South Africa. In the field of public policy, you have goals, and means towards attaining those goals. As long as it  means that you will   attain your objectives, it is always the best to look for such.

Now the objective is to disarm and have stability and peace in that area. It can be achieved either by force of arms or through a means that is less costly, in terms of resources and life. And the president in his wisdom elected to go in the way of the amnesty and it has produced wonders.

It’s unbelievable, what you saw coming out of the creeks; so I am in support of it and I believe that even in the short run and even in the long run it is the best strategy. What is left now is to consolidate that gain because the militants had confidence in the sincerity of the president.

As you know, the president himself met and spoke to them, and so they have confidence that he is an honest man, we can do business with him, we believe him. And then for all those that are implementing the steps associated with the amnesty, I will join in urging them to put in their level best so that the desired result is attained.

I am happy to see that one of our senior colleagues, who is the minister of Defence, General Godwin Abbe is the chairman, and I have full confidence in General Godwin Abbe.

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